11 Things You Need to Know about Zika and Mosquito Control

Mosquitoes can infect people with Zika through their bites.
Mosquitoes can infect people with Zika through their bites.

Mosquitoes bearing the Zika virus are active in the U.S. and with cases rapidly increasing in other parts of the world, health officials are worried that a similar increase could occur in the U.S. Following are 10 common questions – and answers – on the Zika virus, the mosquitoes that spread it, and how to protect yourself and your family.

1. What is the Zika virus?

Zika is a virus that is spread primarily through the bite of a mosquito.

While many people who get infected have no symptoms, others may experience ever, rash, joint pain, and red eyes – most of which are mild and short-term. However, Zika is of grave concern for unborn children because it can serious birth defects if a woman is infected while pregnant. The virus as has been linked to Guillain-Barré syndrome (GBS) which can cause temporary or permanent muscle weakness or paralysis, or death. There currently is no vaccination or treatment for Zika.

2. How do the mosquitoes get Zika?

It is a vicious circle. Mosquitoes become infected with the virus when they bite and feed on the blood of a person who is infected. These infected mosquitoes then pass the virus onto other people that they bite. Thus, the more people that are infected with Zika, the more likely it is that more mosquitoes will contract it and transmit the virus to more people, and on and on.

3. Do all mosquitoes transmit Zika?

No.

Zika is transmitted by the Aedes species of mosquitoes – the Aedes aegypti and Aedes albopictus. Both are common across the southern and mid-Atlantic areas of the U.S. with the Aedes albopictus extending up into much of the Midwest and New England states. Contrary to common thinking about mosquitoes, these are most active during the day, though they will also bite at night. The mosquitoes will lay their eggs in and near standing water, thus outdoor control is critical.

4. How many cases have occurred in the U.S.?

As of September 1, 2016, there were nearly 50 incidents of the Zika virus having been locally acquired in the U.S., all of which were in Florida. There also have been nearly 2,700 cases of people acquiring the virus during travel to an affected area. Additionally, of the total number of cases, 23 are listed as having been sexually transmitted.

5. How accurate are these statistics of Zika cases?

It is very difficult to know exactly how many people are infected with the Zika virus because the number of cases that are tracked by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) are determined by the number of reports received from doctors who have diagnosed patients with the virus. Thus, they do not account for any undiagnosed cases or those who got sick but did not go to the doctor. Additionally, because many people who get infected never have symptoms, the numbers of actual cases could be significantly higher.

6. Why are health officials worried?

According to an NBC News article, it is the worsening outbreak in Singapore that has officials of the CDC most worried because Singapore has a tight system for disease control, requiring that any doctor who diagnoses a case of Zika must inform the government.

The U.S. also considers Zika to a "notifiable disease," requiring that doctors inform CDC of any cases (which also is how we know how many cases have been diagnosed.)

7. How can I protect myself and my family from mosquitoes that spread Zika?

Along with Zika, mosquitoes can spread other diseases including malaria, dengue, West Nile virus, chikungunya, yellow fever, and various forms of encephalitis through their bites. Thus, preventive measures should be taken even if you are not in a Zika area. These include:

  • Wear long sleeves, long pants, and shoes with socks.
  • Use an EPA-registered insect repellent that contains DEET, picaridin, IR3535, or oil of lemon eucalyptus or para-menthane-diol. Spray clothing as well as exposed skin - following all label directions
  • Control mosquitoes around your home with environmental modifications.

8. What should I do if I live in or travel to an area where Zika is being spread by mosquitoes?

In addition to the steps in #5,

  • Stay and sleep in air conditioning and/or ensure that all screening fits tightly and is in good repair.
  • If sleeping outdoors or anywhere screening or A/C is not available, use a mosquito bed net. It is also advisable to cover baby carriers, strollers and cribs with the netting.
  • If you are or get pregnant, you should get tested for Zika and follow the advice of your physician as to additional testing, precautions, or other recommendations.
  • If you are considering getting pregnant, you should discuss, with a trusted healthcare provider, your plans and the potential of you or your partner contracting the virus.

8. What should I do if I think I have Zika?

If you have a fever with a rash, joint pain, or red eyes and think you may have Zika, visit your doctor letting him/her know of any travel you've done or if you've been an area where Zika has spread. CDC also recommends you get lots of rest and drink plenty of liquids take acetaminophen for fever and pain, but do not take products with aspirin, ibuprofen or other nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs until dengue can be ruled out.

10. What should I do if I am diagnosed Zika?

In addition to following any directions from your doctor, you need to protect others from getting it from you. Zika can be passed from infected person to others by a mosquito biting an infected person then biting another person and through sexual contact between an infected person and his or her partners. So to keep from spreading the virus, take steps to prevent mosquito bites, particularly during the first week of illness (See Answers #6 and #7), and follow the safe-sex practices recommended by CDC.

11. Where can I get more information on mosquitoes and Zika?

In additional to CDC's Zika Virus Avoid Mosquito Bites Web pages, there are a number of articles on this site on mosquitoes, mosquito bite prevention, and Zika, including: